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ARCHIVED - Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) Enforcement Teams - Evaluation Study

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February 9, 2012

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Executive Summary


The Canada Border Services Agency's (CBSA) mandate is to facilitate the movement of legitimate travellers and goods and to detect and interdict those travellers and goods that pose a threat to Canada. The CBSA fulfills this mandate by providing integrated border services that support national security, public safety and economic prosperity priorities.

In total, the CBSA has dedicated about 230 FTEs to 23 enforcement teams across the country which translates to approximately 4% of all Border Service Officers (BSOs) and superintendents in the regions.[ 1 ] CBSA enforcement teams[ 2 ] are used to augment, but not replace, core primary and secondary inspection operations at ports of entry (PoEs). These teams are separate from regular primary and secondary operations, allowing them to be flexible and mobile, and to respond to risks both at and away from the Port of Entry (PoE). In general, BSOs on enforcement teams conduct specific enforcement activities and focus on the detection and interdiction of high-risk people and goods.[ 3 ]

Enforcement teams exist across all modes of transportation but are typically assigned to air, land, and mixed-mode units. Most of the enforcement teams work in the air mode. In this mode, teams at Canada's major airports generally work in either the traveller or commercial goods stream but in smaller airports the teams tend to work in both streams. Teams that operate only in the land mode are typically referred to as Flexible Response Teams (FRTs) and perform activities in the traveller or commercial stream or both. FRTs typically work out of one PoE but there are some that conduct their activities at multiple PoEs in the district. Enforcement teams that operate on a seasonal basis are usually deployed across multiple modes.

The purpose of the evaluation was to examine the relevance and performance of the CBSA enforcement teams. This evaluation was completed in accordance with the Treasury Board Directive on the Evaluation Function, and the research was conducted from January to September 2011.

Evaluation Methodology

The evaluation incorporated multiple lines of evidence, including analysis of CBSA operational statistics, performance and expenditure data. A review of documents pertaining to design, delivery, planning and governance (including CBSA Customs Enforcement Manual, People Processing Manual, etc.) was also conducted. One-on-one and group interviews were conducted with key stakeholders including CBSA management at National Headquarters (NHQ) and the regions as well as BSOs on enforcement teams. In addition, site visits were conducted in the Atlantic, Quebec, Greater Toronto Area, Windsor/St. Clair, Niagara/Ft. Erie and Pacific regions.[ 4 ] Information on enforcement teams in regions for which there were no site visits, was gathered via telephone interviews with regional CBSA staff. The evaluation also used two case studies as a means to identify and describe the activities of selected teams and to illustrate the results of these operations.

Key Conclusions and Recommendations

Overall, the deployment of enforcement teams at PoEs meets an ongoing need and is consistent with and aligned to the CBSA priorities, as the Agency is the only organization with jurisdiction at Canada's PoEs. By organizing officers into enforcement teams, PoE managers are able to focus enforcement resources on high-risk travellers and goods. Enforcement teams provide the Agency with flexibility in responding to border-related risks, indicators and highly developed concealment methods.

Agency statistics concerning traveller and commercial processing and enforcement indicate that risks and threats are still prevalent and continue to require enforcement activities. Overall, the Agency averaged 5.7 million traveller examinations per year over the period 2008-2009 to 2010-2011, which resulted in an annual average of 84,000 enforcement actions. Over the same period, there was an average of 253,000 commercial examinations per year and 33,000 enforcement actions.[ 5 ] While the examination and enforcement data is collected for some enforcement teams, it is not available on an agency-wide basis and, therefore the overall contribution of enforcement teams to these figures is not known.

There are no national policies or guidelines to provide direction with respect to the deployment of enforcement teams, these decisions are determined by regional managers. The evaluation found that the deployment of enforcement teams generally aligns with risks identified in the 2010 CBSA Port Risk Assessment Report. However, there are a number of high risk PoEs without an enforcement team and a few medium risk PoEs that have them. In total, 18 of the Agency's 23 enforcement teams operate at high-risk PoEs while 5 are located at medium-risk PoEs. In general, regional managers at the medium risk PoEs reported that the flexibility of enforcement teams were used to meet CBSA responsibilities away from the PoEs that could not be addressed through regular line operations[ 6 ].

Officers on enforcement teams have access to the equipment, tools and systems they need for their duties. In addition, they have the skills and knowledge to effectively carry out their work. There are some logistical challenges in training delivery that managers attempt to mitigate with rotation, job-shadowing and locally developed team orientations.

Overall, enforcement teams in all modes have good working relationships with internal and external partners. However, there are some persistent issues in the air mode that require ongoing attention. For example, officers on air teams indicated that they sometimes experience difficulty trying to access secure areas within airports despite the fact that this is required for them to conduct their duties. Regional managers reported they work with stakeholders on a regular basis to resolve these issues. For example, in one region this problem has been addressed through an agreement between district management and the Airport Authority that allows BSOs with specific shoulder flashes (indicating membership on the enforcement team) rapid access to these areas.

Regional management structures for enforcement teams are clear and team members understand their roles, responsibilities and reporting requirements. However, operational direction and support from headquarters for enforcement teams is limited. The evaluation found that it is not always clear which areas within NHQ are responsible for monitoring performance or providing guidance to enforcement teams. Senior management at NHQ interviewed identified a need for greater NHQ engagement with respect to enforcement teams. Specifically they noted a need to identify training requirements for officers on teams, ensure alignment of team activities with Agency policy in order to support consistent delivery, and the need for more consistent performance measurement.

There is evidence to suggest that the use of enforcement teams enhances CBSA's ability to enforce border legislation and regulations. Although information was available for only 6 of 23 enforcement teams, the data shows that these teams tended to exhibit higher success rates (e.g., proportion of examinations that resulted in enforcement actions) than those achieved through regular line operations. As well, as measured by cost per enforcement action, the use of enforcement teams is an efficient means of enforcing border legislation. With the exception of one enforcement team, all teams for which data were available for the evaluation registered lower costs per enforcement action than that of the overall passenger or commercial operations in which they operate.

Regional managers make resource allocation decisions based on perceived risk balanced with the need to ensure facilitation of legitimate travellers and trade. However, there are no national policies or guidelines to provide direction with respect to the deployment of enforcement teams. Interviewed managers considered the current level of resourcing to be the minimum necessary for enforcement activities, with little scope for increasing team activities given the need to ensure the adequate staffing of line operations. Decision making as to the best use and level of resources to dedicate to enforcement teams would be aided by better articulation of Agency objectives/goals for the use of these teams, and more robust performance reporting and monitoring.

In light of these findings it is recommended that:

Recommendation 1

The Programs Branch, in consultation with Operations Branch, clarify accountability for functional direction to enforcement teams and monitor enforcement team activities and results in order to facilitate the assessment of effectiveness and to inform resource allocation decisions.

Management Response:
Agreed.  Programs Branch supports the recommendation.
Key Milestones Completion Date
Programs Branch has been identified as lead for policy development and functional support. This will be communicated by February. February 2012
Programs Branch will identify an implementation plan for monitoring and assessing the effectiveness of the teams and informing resource allocation decisions. Activities will include:
  • General approach and scope to be defined at the POE Program Management Table
  • Key success factors and measures to be identified
  • Assessment methodologies to be determined
  • Input from regions and operations via “mode” committees and service working groups
June 2012
Border Programs Directorate will implement a monitoring and assessment process in collaboration with Operations Branch.  Activities will include:
  • Implementation plan to be presented and approved by POE Program Management Committee
  • Regions to be engaged and familiarized with the monitoring processes and their roles and responsibilities
  • Integration of the process into the Process Monitoring Framework
October 2012


  1. As of March 31, 2011 there were a total of 6,043 BSOs and superintendents working in the regions. Source: G11 statistics. [Return to text]
  2. For this evaluation, enforcement teams were defined as dedicated groups of BSOs and superintendents that have been formed to focus on the enforcement of Acts and regulations administered by the CBSA. While certain teams across the country self-identify as "enforcement teams", others identified more with the term "flexible" to categorize these dedicated groups of officers. [Return to text]
  3. The definition utilized for this evaluation meant that certain groups of officers that work in teams were scoped out of the research. For example, marine teams that conduct vessel rummage, cruise ship clearance and container examinations were not considered enforcement teams for the purpose of the evaluation as they provide a primary/secondary function tailored to the operational environment at a marine PoE. Officers dedicated to specific detection equipment, such as the Mobile Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACISTM) were not included since their main focus is the operation of specific detection technology. Detector Dog Service (DDS) teams were also considered out of scope as these support enforcement teams as an additional detection tool. [Return to text]
  4. The locations were chosen based on the number and variety of enforcement teams and JFOs, traffic volume and levels of risk. [Return to text]
  5. In the customs environment, enforcement action refers to the levying of a sanction, seizing goods, ascertaining forfeiture, detaining or arresting a person, or any like occurrence. Source: CBSA Enforcement Manual, Part 11, Glossary. [Return to text]
  6. These responsibilities would include responding to Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) referrals, compliance monitoring in airports and marinas, as well as remote area border crossing sites. [Return to text]